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17 Jan, 2018

Binti Trilogy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Binti Trilogy Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
on September 22nd 2015
Pages: 96
Published by Tor.com

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Goodreads

I decided not to read any of this trilogy until they were all released.  I think that was a good decision.  I bought the first two novellas and preordered the third right after Christmas.  In the years since Binti came out I had heard a lot about it but somehow did not entirely understand what it was about.  I knew that she was a girl from Africa who was going to university on another planet.  I thought this was going to be the story of her schooling.  It isn’t.

Binti takes place almost entirely on the ship on her way to the university.  Binti comes from a insular culture.  Family and tradition are of the highest importance.  At the same time they are very technologically advanced and make advanced devices for everyone.  Binti is most comfortable working with mathematical formulas.  They help her focus and relax.  She can manipulate electrical current through formulas.  Sheis a harmonizer who can bring disparate things together.  She’s supposed to take over the family business.  Instead she runs in the middle of the night to go off planet.  This is an ultimate betrayal of her family and culture.

Every time I read a Nnedi Okorafor book what stays with me is the imagination in the fine details more than the plot.  It starts with Binti’s faulty hover technology that she uses to move her suitcases.  It extends to the interstellar ships that are actually live animals that look like shrimp.  They like to travel and are fine with taking passengers along.

This whole series is an exploration of what it means to be uniquely “you”.  Does Binti lose her identity when she leaves her family or is she changing into an expanded version of herself?  Is it right or wrong to change in that way?  The women of Binti’s tribe wear a mixture of clay and oils on their skin to protect it from the desert.  It marks her as an outsider from other cultures on Earth but it saves her when the ship is attacked.  She is the only survivor and has to learn to use her gift for harmonizing to help stop a war.


Binti Trilogy Home by Nnedi Okorafor
on January 31st 2017
Pages: 176
Published by Tor.com

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day.
And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

Goodreads


The events of the first novella were very traumatic for Binti.  She is still learning how to handle her nightmares in addition to the changes in her body after some Meduse DNA was placed in her.  Is she still Himba with the addition of alien DNA?  Will her family ever be able to accept her if she goes home?  She decides that she has to go back to Earth to see.  Her goal is to take part in a pilgrimage that will earn her place as an adult woman of the Himba.  Okwa, her Meduse friend, decides to go with her.  He will be the first Meduse to ever come to Earth peacefully.

Friends and family members turn their back on her.  Then she is prevented from going on the pilgrimage by the arrival of members of a desert people who the Himba have always looked down on.  They take her into the desert to explain their history to her.  Her father is one of the them but he turned his back on them to become Himba.  Again we get into questions of identity.  Binti was raised to stay in her own community.  Her world keeps expanding against her will.

While she is in the desert, her family and Okwa are attacked.  Now she has to try to make her way back to see if anyone survived.

This was my favorite of the series.  Binti is pushing through the boundaries that have been set for a woman of her age and tribe.  As she grows, there is a ripple effect in her community.


Binti Trilogy The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
on January 16th 2018
Pages: 160
Published by Tor.com

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.
Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.
Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Goodreads


I’m glad I read these almost back to back.  This story picks up immediately where the last one left off.  Binti is getting back to her village that has been attacked while she was gone.  She tries to rally the survivors but meets opposition from people who believe that their nature requires them to stay neutral and out of harm’s way while other more powerful groups fight.  Binti wants to use the power of her culture to bring peace.  She is ignored because after all she is just a girl and a very poor example of a Himba, in the elders’ eyes.   Binti is becoming a bit more used to her expanded world view though.  She can see how to bring people together even though it is going to cost her everything to do this alone.

These books do a very good job of combining traditional Himba culture, other West African beliefs such as the importance of Masquerades, advanced technology, and alien civilizations without making it feel like one is automatically better than any of the others.  Binti learns to incorporate all these aspects of herself into her idea of who she is even if she really doesn’t want to.

“I have always liked myself, Dr. Tuka.” I looked up at her.  “I like who I am.  I love my family. I wasn’t running away from home.  I don’t want to change, to grow!  Nothing … everything … I don’t want all this … this weirdness! It’s too heavy!  I just want to be.”

 

I would recommend this series for anyone who enjoys science fiction that is very personal instead of a vast epic.  It is for anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fix exactly in the space that they were born to occupy even if they really want to fit there perfectly.

28 Sep, 2016

AfroSF

/ posted in: Reading AfroSF AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers by Ivor W. Hartmann, Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah Lotz, Tendai Huchu, Cristy Zinn, Ashley Jacobs, Nick Wood, Tade Thompson, S.A. Partridge, Chinelo Onwualu, Uko Bendi Udo, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, Biram Mboob, Sally-Ann Murray, Mandisi Nkomo, Liam Kruger, Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu, Joan De La Haye, Mia Arderne, Rafeeat Aliyu, Martin Stokes, Clifton Gachagua, Efe Okogu
on December 1st 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Published by StoryTime
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Africa
Goodreads

“AfroSF is the first ever anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only that was open to submissions of original (previously unpublished) works across Africa and abroad.”


Short story collections take me so long to read.  I’ve had this book on my iPad for years. Here are some of my favorites.

Moom by Nnedi Okorafor – This is the short story that was reworked into the opening of her novel Lagoon.  What if alien first contact on Earth was made by a swordfish?

Home Affairs by Sarah Lotz – I loved this story of a bureaucratic nightmare taking place in a modern city.  When I think of African sci fi I tend to think of monsters and countryside.  This turns those assumptions around and makes a nightmare out of the most annoying aspects of modern life – waiting in line.

The Sale by Tendai Huchu – Third world countries have been sold to corporations and citizens’ health is monitored at all times in these new perfect cities.  But what if you want to rebel?

Planet X by S.A. Partridge – A new alien society has made contact and the people of Earth are afraid.  One girl thinks that humans have more to fear from themselves than from the aliens.

Closing Time by Liam Kruger – Alcohol and time travel shouldn’t be taken together

 

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15 Aug, 2016

African Monsters

/ posted in: Reading African Monsters African Monsters (Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, #2) by Margrét Helgadóttir, Jo Thomas, Nnedi Okorafor, Dilman Dila, Tade Thompson, Joe Vaz, Vianne Venter, Chikodili Emelumadu, Nerine Dorman, Toby Bennett, Joan De La Haye, Jayne Bauling, Sarah Lotz, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, Tendai Huchu, Su Opperman, James Bennett, Nick Wood
on December 15th 2015
Pages: 198
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy
Published by Fox Spirit Books
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Africa
Goodreads

Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world. 


Monsters should be scary

African Monsters is a collection of stories where the monsters aren’t misunderstood or easily turned to the side of good. These are the stories of monsters from sub-Saharan Africa who prey on humans.

The locations of some of the stories in this collection.

Reviewing a collection can be difficult because not every story resonates with every reader. Here are few of my favorites.

On the Road by Nnedi Okorafor – An American policewoman returns to Nigeria and her grandmother but is confronted with a mystery surrounding an injured child.

Severed by Jayne Bauling – A camping trip to a remote lake goes horribly wrong

That Woman by S Lotz – A policeman investigates reports of witches dispensing punishments in the countryside.

After the Rain by Joe Vaz –  A man who left South Africa as a child returns and finds himself trapped in a bar in his old neighborhood by werewolves.

Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar by Dave-Brandon de Burgh – A man is brought from South Africa to Zanzibar to clean up a monster problem that he thought he had handled before.

A Whisper in the Reeds by Nerine Dorman – Water spirits tempt a man

Acid Test by Vianne Venter – After Johannesburg is evacuated due to an environmental catastrophe a team returns to monitor the recovery.

Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe by Nick Wood – A girl is put in a fairy tale and refuses to be satisfied with the typical endings.


 

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

This is a wonderful chance to familiarize yourself with some African authors.  I’m already a huge Nnedi Okorafor fan but I’ve added some of Nerine Dorman’s books to my TBR list too because they sound amazing.

 

4flowercan

18 Apr, 2016

The Shadow Speaker

/ posted in: Reading The Shadow Speaker The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
on October 2nd 2007
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Niger

In West Africa in 2070, after fifteen-year-old "shadow speaker" Ejii witnesses her father's beheading, she embarks on a dangerous journey across the Sahara to find Jaa, her father's killer, and upon finding her, she also discovers a greater purpose to her life and to the mystical powers she possesses.

Goodreads

I’ve been having a sort of disappointing book year.  It isn’t unusual for me not to give out many 5 star ratings.  I just did 7/170 last year.  But so far this has been a solidly 3 star book year for me.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like them.  It means that I liked them enough to finish them but they aren’t going to stay with me.

The Shadow Speaker was such a breath of fresh air.  From the beginning it was wonderful to sink into the world of Nnedi Okorafor’s imagination.

“Kwàmfà, Ejii’s home, was a town of slim palm trees and sturdy gnarled monkey bread trees, old but upgraded satellite dishes, and sand brick houses with colorful Zulu designs.  It was noisy, too; its unpaved but flat roads always busy with motorbikes, camels, old cars and during certain parts of the year, even the occasional truck.  Kwàmfà was also known for its amazing carpets and after the Great Change, in the shadier parts of the market, its flying carpets.”

After a nuclear war, so called Peace Bombs were dropped by a militant environmental group.  They caused a lot of molecular changes to Earth including rapid forest growth and the development of metahumans with special skills.  It also opened passages to other planets with civilizations very different from Earth.  Ejii is a Shadow Speaker.  She can see long distances and see in the dark.  She can hear shadows talking to her but can’t understand what they are saying.  Shadow speakers get an urge to wander but it isn’t safe to travel now and most of them die young during their travels.

Ejii’s father was the chief of her village.  He made women cover and hide themselves and said it was for their own protection.  He was assassinated by Jaa, a female leader.  Life has been going well in Kwàmfà for the last five years but now Jaa is leaving.  Ejii knows that her father’s younger wives have a grudge against her mother and her half siblings are planning to move against Ejii because she is a metahuman.  When Jaa asks her to go with her to a meeting with representatives of other worlds she knows she has to go regardless of the risks of travel.


There is so much to love in this book.  One of the favorite parts of reading this author is seeing all the amazing and unique ideas she comes up with.

  • A talking camel who named himself Onion because onions are his favorite food
  • A planet whose technology is all based on plants
  • Ghosts that act as advisors in a conference room
  • Trickster gods who act as guardians of the passages between planets
  • Wild cats who debate with themselves whether or not to eat you
  • Guardian owls

I was excited to see that the planet that they visit for the meeting is the world from Zahrah the Windseeker.  I loved seeing the apes that made an appearance in that book show up in totally different circumstances here.

My only minor quibble is the ending.  The books ends with a character telling Ejii that she has to tell her a story about what has been happening while Ejii was on her journey.  I want to know that story!  I want more!

If you haven’t read this author yet, you need to.  It isn’t necessary to read Zahrah the Windseeker first to read this book.  Both of these books would be considered MG/YA so they are easy reads and a great entry point to her work before reading her adult novels.

 

12 Aug, 2015

Zahrah The Windseeker

/ posted in: Reading Zahrah The Windseeker Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor
on 2005
Pages: 308
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl--she grows her own flora computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other children in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn’t afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening--something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friends determine to investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari’s life is threatened, Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different. In this exciting debut novel by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, things aren’t always what they seem--monkeys tell fortunes, plants offer wisdom, and a teenage girl is the only one who stands a chance at saving her best friend’s life.

Goodreads

This is the first book that Nnedi Okorafor published.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is born different and whose difference is not easily hidden.  Zahrah has vines growing out of her head along with her hair.  As she starts to go through puberty, she also develops the ability to levitate.  She doesn’t want to be any more of an oddity so she hides this skill.  Besides, she’s afraid of heights.

On the outskirts of the town there is the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.  No one goes in there.  No one knows anything about it except it is dangerous.  Zahrah’s friend Dari is obsessed with a book that tells of people who explored the Jungle.  They found it absurd that no one knew anything about an area that covers most of the land.  Zahrah tolerates Dari’s obsession.  After all, he believes in the mythical land of Earth too.  When Zahrah needs a private place to practice levitation and Dari wants to go into the Jungle, they decide to go together.

There is overflowing imagination in the building of this world.  Plants are used for everything.  Computers are grown from seeds and tended like flowers.  Buildings are grown the same way.  In the Dark Market, forbidden to children, are fortune tellers who interpret the psychic readings of baboons and vendors who sell two headed parrots who fight with themselves.  Zahrah meets gorillas who speak and live in villages in the Jungle.  She finds all kinds of amazing creatures in the jungle.

Zahrah is a good heroine because she is afraid of everything but learns to trust her skills and her judgement.  She finds out that she is capable of so much more than anyone gave her credit for.


I liked the idea of everything being plant based in this world.  While I was reading this book, I happened to listen to the Infinite Monkey Cage podcast called What Is The Point of Plants that discussed quantum interactions in plants.  They had a discussion of whether or not your lawn is a lazy quantum computer.  Zahrah would have been able to make it work.  She was good at growing computers.

 

 

Linking to ReadThis.us, Diversity on the Shelf
30 Jul, 2015

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

/ posted in: Reading Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
on 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria's legendary mega-city, they're more alone than they've ever been before.But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world... and themselves.

Goodreads

Something strange is happening off the coast of Lagos.  The fish are changing.  The water is changing.  The oil isn’t flowing.

They’ve been having a bad night.  Adaora’s increasingly irrationally jealous husband hit her.  She fought back and was able to easily pin him to the ground.  She fled to the beach.  Anthony was doing a show but needed to clear his head so he went for a walk.  Agu almost killed his fellow soldiers when they decided to rape a woman.  He is running from retribution.

The three humans are brought together and then taken offshore.  They return different and with a visitor.

First contact with an alien species doesn’t go well.  Everyone has an angle.  Adaora’s husband’s pastor wants to convert the aliens to his form of Christianity.  Some people want to kidnap it for a huge ransom.  The army wants to capture the aliens.

The aliens decide that they really don’t like humans.


I like the fact that the aliens don’t contact humans until after they’ve been in discussion with the animals in the ocean to see what would make them happy.  Bats and spiders get enlightenment too but humans are a problem for them.

The humans are a problem for everyone.  There is rioting after the aliens take over all communication to announce that they are here.  With the city in chaos it is up to the humans who the aliens first contacted to show what humanity can be and it act as witnesses to what it will become.

The story is told from multiple points of view including people from all levels of society.  There are wealthy people and prostitutes and pick pockets and church people.  The city of Lagos comes across as an important character.  The mythology of the area also plays a role and gives the story a bit of a folktale feel in addition to sci-fi.

Okorafor’s books aren’t hopeful about the future of humanity.  Her characters are always surrounded by greed and evil and stupidity.  The hope in her books comes from outside forces changing people to be better.  The writing draws you into the story and keeps you engaged until the end.

There is also a quick The Gods Must Be Crazy reference that made me laugh out loud.

 

Public domain from NOAA

Imagine what the fish would become if they had their wildest desires granted!

Akata Witch
21 Jun, 2015

Akata Witch

/ posted in: Reading Akata Witch Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
on 2011-04
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she's albino. She's a terrific athlete, but can't go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a "free agent," with latent magical power. Soon she's part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Goodreads

Sunny is an American-born Nigeria girl who has been living in Nigeria for three years.  She isn’t accepted in school and is referred to as “akata” — a derogatory term for someone who is an American black person or any foreign black person who doesn’t fit in.  One night she is staring into a flame and sees a vision of the end of the world.  That’s her first clue that things are about to get weird.

Orlu is the only classmate of Sunny’s who seems to tolerate her.  He starts walking home with her and that brings her to the attention of his other friend Chichi.  She doesn’t go to school.  She lives with her mother in a small run down house filled with hundreds of books.

Chichi and Orlu are Leopard People — magic users.  Most of them come from families of Leopard People but they suspect that Sunny has power so they decide to test her to find out.  When she passes the test they take her to their teacher and all meet Sasha.  He’s an American who is in trouble for torturing a classmate with magic.  He’s been sent to Nigeria for punishment and hopefully some retraining.

The four children are grouped together to learn about their skills.  They find out that the ultimate goal of their training is for them to be able to work together to defeat a magical serial killer.


There is so much that I love about this book.

There is a wasp who makes sculptures out of chewed up paper.  If you don’t praise her enough for her creations she will sting you until she dies in a fit of artistic pique.

Everyone has a true face that is private and you need to be able to access it in order to reach the Leopard People’s village.

One of the most powerful people is the librarian because she holds all the knowledge.

The funky train is a magically powered bus driven by a man called Jesus’ General and covered in Christian signs that may or may not change to Islamic signs depending on where it is going.

Chittim is magical money.  Any time you learn a new skill or gain knowledge it falls from the sky at your feet.  I want this to happen.


I don’t know that the overall plot with the serial killer made a lot of sense.  It seemed like it wasn’t really necessary because so much was going on with just watching Sunny navigate her new world.  After not being thrilled with Okorafor’s recent The Book of Phoenix, I’m glad this one was a delight to read though.

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